I noticed several news articles reporting that an unnamed sports star has been arrested for a serious crime. All the articles mention that the accused could not be named "for legal reasons". I could assume that the news organizations do not know the identity of the accused, but the articles are unclear and in my opinion, make it seem like they know the persons identity, but are prohibited from disclosing it.





I have never heard of this in the United States, and I was curious to know what laws or "legal reasons" that would prohibit a news organization from releasing the identity of a suspect if it is known. I understand that making unknown or false statements like "person A is a rapist" could be libelous if untrue, but just reporting that "person A was arrested for a serious crime" would be OK as long as this is a true fact and actually happened.

What "legal reasons" would prevent a news organization from releasing the identity of the accused?

  • 2
    Arrested doesn't mean guilty. If that unnamed sports star is found to be innocent, reporting about the case might become libel which might become very expensive. "Was arrested for X" and "did X" can be very close in the public eye. Mud sticks, there's no smoke without fire, and so on.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 17:20
  • The news media reports the arrests and accusations of public figures every day. I find it unusual that they didn't in this case, and think it odd that they would use the specific wording of "legal reasons" to describe possible libel (which this does not look like anyway). I can't help thinking I am missing something, but maybe it is obvious to someone familiar with UK law.
    – bigchief
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 17:30
  • They can and do report it, often. Please see Singer feared dying of heart attack after facing child sex assault claims. The linked story states: The group wants the amendment to make it an offence in England and Wales for someone to identify or publish information about another person being subject of an investigation "in respect of the alleged commission of a sexual offence" unless charged or if there is a court order permitting this.. Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 18:23

1 Answer 1


From your first link:

"A leading Premier League footballer arrested on suspicion of rape has been further arrested on suspicion of two incidents of rape against a different woman."

As he was arrested that means there are now 'active' 'criminal proceedings' against him within the meaning of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 (as amended).

Therefore reporting is now subject to the 'strict liability rule':

"it is a contempt of court to publish anything to the public which creates a substantial risk that the course of justice in the proceedings in question will be seriously impeded or prejudiced, even if there is no intent to cause such prejudice."

Reporting Restrictions in the Criminal Courts April 2015 (Revised May 2016), Judicial College

Per the Contempt of Court Act there are four defences:

  • s3(1) "A person is not guilty of contempt of court under the strict liability rule as the publisher of any matter to which that rule applies if at the time of publication (having taken all reasonable care) he does not know and has no reason to suspect that relevant proceedings are active.

  • s3(2) "A person is not guilty of contempt of court under the strict liability rule as the distributor of a publication containing any such matter if at the time of distribution (having taken all reasonable care) he does not know that it contains such matter and has no reason to suspect that it is likely to do so.

  • s4(1) "a fair and accurate report of legal proceedings held in public, published contemporaneously and in good faith"

  • s5 "A publication made as or as part of a discussion in good faith of public affairs or other matters of general public interest is not to be treated as a contempt of court under the strict liability rule if the risk of impediment or prejudice to particular legal proceedings is merely incidental to the discussion."

Really the publication is mitigating its legal risk at the present time and it will no doubt report the name of the footballer if he is tried or does not proceed to trial.

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